The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died of spinal injuries he suffered during an arrest in Baltimore that involved being transported in a police van. Gray, 25, was taken into custody April 12 after police "made eye contact" with him and another man in an area known for drug activity and the two started running, Baltimore police said. Gray was handcuffed and put in a transport van. At some point during his roughly 30-minute ride, the van was stopped and Gray's legs were shackled when an officer felt he was becoming "irate" in the back of the van, police said.
He was rushed by ambulance to a hospital. Gray died Sunday—a week after his arrest—of what Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez described as "a significant spinal injury." Exactly how he was injured and what happened in the van is still not known. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said investigators are "gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred." There's a high threshold for bringing federal civil rights charges against police officers in such cases. Federal investigators must show an officer willfully deprived a person of his or her civil rights by using more force than the law allows, a standard that's challenging in rapidly unfolding confrontations in which snap judgments are made. (Read more Freddie Gray stories.)